Kitamura named to lead Whitman program

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Brian Kitamura is the 17th head coach for the Missionaries.
Whitman athletics photo

WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Athletics Director Dean Snider has named Brian Kitamura the new head coach of the Whitman College baseball program, taking over for Sean Kinney who has elected to step away from the program he's led for the past three seasons.

Kitamura, the 17th head coach in program history, has been in the Missionaries' dugout as an assistant coach since graduating from Whitman in 2010 following four years patrolling the outfield for the Missionaries. He brings not only player- and assistant-coaching experience to his new post but also head-coaching experience after a pair of summers leading the Walla Walla Bears Under-19 club team.

Upon graduation Kitamura immediately made his way from player to coach, taking an assistant coach position with the Bears in the summer of 2010 when the team compiled a 22-18 record. He then joined the Whitman coaching staff after the summer.

In 2011 Kitamura was named the head coach of the summer Bears and promptly improved the previous year's numbers to 26-13, then followed up the next summer with a record of 33-10-1.
Kitamura and Kinney, a 2005 graduate of Whitman, have followed the same career arc.

Kinney, who stepped away from the head coaching position for personal reasons Friday, joined the Whitman staff as an assistant after graduating and eventually was handed the interim head coaching duties in the spring of 2013, helping improve a five-win team in 2012 to a 16-22 mark in his first year at the helm.

Snider removed the interim tag at the end of the season and watched Kinney lead the 2014 squad to a 20-18-1 record – the program's first winning record since 1982 (19-13) and the first 20-win season since at least 1949.

As a head coach there is never a good time to leave -- ties with returning players, the promise of your new recruiting class, etc. -- and so the decision to leave was not an easy one for Kinney. "I've had an unexpected but exciting chance to play and work at Whitman for almost a decade and a half," relayed Kinney. "My heart just told me that, unfortunately for a wonderful group of guys I'd been working with, this was a decision I needed to make. I'll forever cherish the tremendous opportunity I've had, and enjoyed the chance to see the growth of the men in our program."

"I am truly sorry to see Sean leave us," stated a somber Snider. "But after 14 exemplary years as a student-athlete and coach at Whitman he's certainly earned the right to choose to head in a different direction with his life's goals and I fully support that decision. At the same time, though, I'm also excited about the continuity and quality of leadership that Brian will provide."

Kitamura joined Kinney on the staff in 2010 and continued to follow Kinney up the coaching ladder during his five years as an assistant. Kinney elevated Kitamura to lead recruiter for the program and Kitamura, according to Snider, "used his excellent people skills to build strong relationships within our recruiting network, with parents, prospects and our Office of Admissions."

Snider say of his choice to tab Kitamura as the next leader of the program, "Brian's work ethic and strength of character are clearly evident, and his love for the College and 'team-first' mentality make him an outstanding colleague. He has gained the respect of the players on the team and that leaves me confident that we have put the program in good hands."

The opportunity to take the program lead isn't lost on Kitamura. "Whitman is a special place and the community (on campus and in Walla Walla) is amazing," he said. "I am honored to have the privilege of leading the Missionaries baseball program, especially as it presents me with the chance to give back to my alma mater in a new role."

Kitamura is no stranger to Northwest Conference opponents having been a starter in the outfield for the Missionaries since his first-year season. In his four seasons of action Kitamura committed only four errors.

Arguably his best season was Kitamura's junior campaign in which he finished with a .285 batting average and led the team in runs scored and walks while registering 101 putouts and five assists in the field against just one error.

Kitamura doesn't sound like he will be satisfied with the status quo as the team's new leader. "Our goal is to be the best in the field, in the classroom and in our community," he explained. "The future is bright as we have a talented, young roster with potential yet to be reached, and a strong, well-rounded incoming class that will allow me to further improve the culture surrounding and within our program."

Already the contact for the incoming class and future recruits, Kitamura will strengthen those bonds in his early days as the new head coach, and soon will run a national search to take over his old spot in the assistant coach's office.